“This exotically beautiful action film features gods and demons locked in a struggle for the future of the unspoiled forest and an elaborate moral universe that Mr. Miyazaki has created. As such, it is a sweeping, ambitious version of the comic-book storytelling that engendered it. Frequent battle scenes, graphic enough to make a sharp distinction between “Princess Mononoke” and animation made for children, keep the story in motion. These are often breathtakingly rendered, but it is the film’s stirring use of nature, myth and history that make it so special.
In a plot somewhat knotty for even the most ardent devotees of anime (comics-derived Japanese animation), the events of “Princess Mononoke” begin with an attack on a remote mountain village.
A demonic wild boar, drawn as a furious tangle of pulsating wormlike strands and given the movements of a huge, terrifying spider, is the reason the young hero Ashitaka goes off to save the forests.
Those forests, imbued with a stirring, forthright sense of natural beauty, turn out to be filled with Mr. Miyazaki’s fanciful inventions. The film is worth seeing just for the sight of its Forest Spirit, which takes animal-like form by day and roams the nights as a diaphanous Godzilla-like divinity with magical powers.
The image of plants and flowers springing to life beneath the Forest Spirit’s hooves as he walks is simple, meaningful and ravishingly presented.
The film features a superb blend of hand-drawn cels and fluid computer-generated motion, but its look is also gratifyingly understated. Notably absent are the little anthropomorphic touches that enliven most animation involving animals; this film’s prevailing attitude toward its creatures is one of respect and wonder. And in welcome contrast to the chest-thumping animated musical, this film uses the grandeur of its score (by Joe Hisaishi) gracefully to enhance the momentousness of its story. Individual scenes are most intriguing for their rich variety in a film whose human characters (ironworkers, lepers, hunters, former prostitutes and Princess Mononoke, a feral young woman reared by wolves) are as varied as the woodland fauna.” (Janet Maslin, The New York Times)